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Transportation vs. urban mobility

05 of August '22

interview fromA&B 06 | 2022 issue

"The road system and public transport network should precede the development of buildings" - Professor Tomasz Komornicki is interviewed by Malgorzata Tomczak about the right to the city, the role and quality of transportation in urban areas and its impact on climate change.

Malgorzata Tomczak: Professor, who - from the perspective of your discipline - has the right to the city?

Prof. Tomasz Komornicki: We all have it. Certainly, this right cannot be limited to the residents, and thus make the centers into a kind of "gated mega-resort." A city has certain functions in relation to its surroundings, including transportation or services. It should always be analyzed as part of a functional area, more, as part of many overlapping areas and functional systems, including the global one.

: And is the right to transportation in the city the same part of the right to the city?

Prof. Tomasz Komornicki: Yes, but on the condition that we understand it as a certain compromise and not an absolute rule. A city, especially a large one, serves residents, but also visitors. It serves the economy and society as a whole by being a transportation hub. Following Manuel Castells [Spanish sociologist and academic, former minister of higher education in Spain - editor's note]. we can assume that the positions of modern cities and regions are determined by their location in the space of flows. It is the ability of centers to interact externally that determines their development and, consequently, their attractiveness, including settlement. Of course, we expect that the extent of external linkages may change. It is likely that the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian aggression against Ukraine will accelerate the shortening of supply chains, we will be closer to the assumptions of thecircular economy. It may also be that the spread of remote work will increase the distance between residences and workplaces, reducing the associated mobility. All this will not, however, make the city a closed enclave. Therefore, residents of a city or part of a city are not and cannot be the only addressees of urban policy. They are not the only ones who have a right to their city. Residents of the suburban zone also have them, even if we criticize their decisions to move to the suburbs, and residents of the wider urban region who use services located in the center. To a certain extent, residents of other large cities in the country and abroad, whose development is linked to the broadly understood networking, also have them. This is compounded by the diversity of transportation needs among residents themselves. It is a result of the location of their residence, their daily life paths, but also their age, social position, education or income level. As a result, different groups have different expectations of transportation space, which sometimes contradict each other. The example of pedestrians and drivers is the most mundane, but we will find more contradictions. But to return to the initial question - yes, we have a right to transportation in the city, but it is necessarily a compromise, and not only social, but also territorial.

zmiany demograficzne oraz kierunki dojazdów do pracy determinują zapotrzebowanie na transport pasażerski

demographic changes and the directions of commuting determine the demand for passenger transport - demographic changes and the directions of commuting determine the demand for passenger transport; as the example of Podlaskie Voivodeship shows, the territorial differences in this regard are huge source: cartographic study by S. Goliszek for the Regional Transport Plan of Podlaskie Voivodeship

© Tomasz Komornicki

: Transportation policy is an important element of spatial policy. So what is the place of transportation investments in space?

Prof. Tomasz Komornicki: Transport infrastructure, in a nutshell, is created for two reasons: it can be a response to existing demand or a tool for creating policy - regional, spatial, urban.

: Which is the dominant one?

Prof. Tomasz Komornicki: In Poland, the first of these variants was dominant for many years. After 1989, mobility grew very rapidly, and freight transport also increased. Importantly, in both cases there was a simultaneous spatial deconcentration of streams. A large number of smaller companies, including service companies, and a dispersed labor market meant that in many places the transportation system proved unsuitable for the new conditions. Therefore, most of the investments and organizational measures served to solve the growing problems, eliminating bottlenecks, upgrading roads, eliminating heavy traffic from urban areas. The scale of investment delays was so large that virtually every investment could be well justified, including in subsequent years by applying for relevant EU funds. Under these conditions, we have somewhat forgotten that transport investments are also a way to create and organize space. Through concrete actions we can support socio-economic development. We can also try to better organize space, limit unfavorable phenomena such as uncontrolled suburbanization and spatial chaos. We can improve the quality of life as a result. It seems that the problem today is the distribution of competencies in spatial policy, and indirectly in transportation policy. The Polish system is highly polarized. Decisions are made at the national or local level. Objectives in both cases are sometimes contradictory. Moreover, this generates difficulties in the management of urban functional areas, including transport infrastructure and the organization of public transport. In my opinion, it would be advisable to increase the competence of local governments at the regional level.

: For years, cities have been struggling with climate change. One of the sources of excessive CO2 emissions is transportation. How effectively should cities implement sustainable transportation?

Prof. Tomasz Komornicki: Transportation is a source of emissions. The fact that it is becoming one at an increasing rate is to some extent the result of positive changes in other sectors. If we modernize the energy sector and gradually reduce the so-called low emissions from our stoves, then in percentage terms the impact of transportation is growing. Also if technologically (e.g., through the standards that the automobile industry has to meet) absolute emissions go down. This, of course, does not change the fact that this should be a concern for us. Studies in several European cities prove that investments in public transportation must be of the right scale. Only then can they reduce individual car traffic. A dozen years ago I conducted such research in Warsaw. Residents of two housing estates were asked about car ownership and, at the same time, how they traveled to work. One estate was served by the then only subway line, the other by a relatively new streetcar line. In the first case, the percentage of car owners who did not use their cars daily was twice as high as in the second. Only a radical reduction in travel time and high frequency would result in a change in the mode of transportation. Personally, I am also in favor of road tolls as a tool of urban transportation policy.

: With fuel prices currently rising steadily?

Prof. Tomasz Komornicki: Of course, proposing new charges at current fuel prices is difficult. However, road tolls could to some extent replace taxes hidden in the prices of energy carriers (they could be fiscally neutral). Fully electronically collected road tolls offer tremendous opportunities to vary the burden imposed depending on the category (emissions) of the vehicle, the hour of travel, the part of the city, the place of residence, and other characteristics of the user (e.g., age or disability).

The measures that cities are currently taking are not always consistent. Sometimes they are determined by the availability of funds, including European funds, for specific purposes. I am critical of some.

wskaźnik dostępności w transporcie publicznym jest zawsze wyższy na terenach zurbaizowanych i gęściej zaludnionych

the accessibility rate of public transportation is always higher in urbanized and more densely populated areas - the accessibility rate of public transportation is always higher in urbanized and more densely populated areas; outside of them, it is very difficult to provide the same level of service Source. Rosik, W. Pomianowski, S. Goliszek, M. Stępniak, K. Kowalczyk, R. Guzik, A. Koloś, T. Komornicki, 2017, "Multimodal accessibility by public transport in Poland, Prace Geograficzne 258", IGiPZ PAN, Warsaw.

© Tomasz Komornicki

: And which ones specifically?

Prof. Tomasz Komornicki: Electric buses are an example, especially when smaller centers buy them. Sometimes it's more important that more people switch to public transportation than whether the bus they take has an electric motor or a modern combustion engine. I also have my doubts about the narrowing of some of the main streets that ensure the permeability of major metropolitan areas, including during emergencies. They are needed, among other things, for the efficient distribution of goods. A recent nationwide general traffic survey, already conducted under pandemic conditions, showed the largest increases in the commercial vehicle category. Far better than narrowing (which often creates congestion in places where it didn't exist before) seems to be the creation of limited access zones based on a number of smaller streets (a good example is the Five Corners Square in Warsaw, which is currently being created). In summary, the policy of cities must depend on their size and the specifics of their development. Policies toward individual cars should necessarily be stricter in cities with historic buildings, such as Krakow, than in centers with more space resources, such as Warsaw. Individual projects must be evaluated in terms of their effectiveness, both economically and in terms of their "emissions" performance. The argument that a particular action contributes to climate change mitigation is good in the media. However, we rarely ask how big these benefits are, much less how big they are relative to other possible solutions.

continued conversation on next page

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